An engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area accidentally went on a long trip while repairing an old-school 1960s synthesizer that had been partially coated in LSD.
Eliot Curtis, a Broadcast Operations Manager at local CBS station KPIX in San Francisco, had volunteered to work on repairing the Buchla Model 100, created by the late Berkeley-based synth pioneer Don Buchla.
Unbeknownst to Curtis, the synthesizer—which belonged to Cal State University East Bay and had been lying dormant in a classroom closet for years—was a psychedelic time capsule from the famous historic counterculture with the hidden ability to take him on a trippy journey.
According to KPIX, Curtis had set to work on fixing the machine when he noticed a mysterious crystalline substance underneath one of the knobs. When he attempted to clean the substance off with his finger and a solvent, he began experiencing a strange, tingling sensation. About 45 minutes later, the technician realized that he was experiencing the onset of a full-blown acid trip, which lasted about nine hours.
“It was … [I] felt like I was tripping on LSD.”
According to KPIX, three tests confirmed that the crystalline substance was indeed LSD—or lysergic acid diethylamide—which has the capability to remain potent for years when stored in cool and dark places, much like the closet where the Buchla synth was stored.
The incident confirmed what had already long been an urban legend in the Bay Area music scene—that the late Buchla, famous for being an acid enthusiast, had been applying LSD to the surfaces of his “Red Panel” machines as a means to provide musicians with a bit of chemical inspiration if they so desired it.
Electronic musician Suzanne Ciani, who studied under Buchla in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s at Berkeley, told KPIX:
“I call him the Leonardo da Vinci of electronic music design… It’s no accident that he developed his unique ideas in this crucible of upset and chaos in Berkeley.”
In 1966, LSD advocate and iconic author Ken Kesey purchased some Buchla modules for the old school bus he purchased to truck around his followers, who were known as the Merry Pranksters.
Buchla was also friends with Owsley Stanley, the mastermind behind the Grateful Dead’s sound system. At the time, Stanley—who was a towering figure in the hippie and “Dead Head” movement that was peaking in Northern California in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s—was also known for producing some of the finest and purest LSD to hit the streets at the time.
After finishing his unexpected journey, the technician Curtis went on to completely restore the vintage synth and to thoroughly cleanse the surface of the Buchla, removing all acid residue from the machine.
The Buchla 100 was a strange machine, lacking any keyboard whatsoever and relying on knobs and cords to create sound. Now back in action at Cal State East Bay, the machine is blowing students away with its unique craftsmanship and design.
Either way, Ciani is astonished by the journey that Curtis took while repairing the machine.
“It’s a bit like time travel. If you could go back that would be the way to go there. That is, to share the drugs that everybody took at that time.”
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